In 2012, I wrote a series of blog posts (starting here) studying what would happen if Electoral Votes were awarded proportionally according to the vote in a state, not winner-take-all as is the practice in all but two states today (the other two award two EV’s to the winner of the state and one to the winner of each Congressional District). I concluded that:
- Because of arithmetic, a pure proportional vote wouldn’t fly — because each state has a mean of 10.5 electoral votes, and the median state has 9 electoral votes, a pure proportional system would, on average, award one electoral vote per 10% or so of the state’s popular vote. Since a swing of 10% is almost unheard of, this would render the election pretty much irrelevant in all but a few very large states. A system with thresholds fixes that: 60% of the vote wins all of a state’s electoral votes, 40% none, between 40% and 60% a proportional fraction. This, in the average state, awards one elector per 2% of the vote, which means most states will have some electors in play.
- A study demonstrated that all but the smallest states (partisan states with 3-4 electoral votes) would have electors in play, so the electoral battleground would be something like 45 states, rather than the current 13-15.
- A threshold proportional vote tracked the national vote very closely. In particular, Bush/Gore 2000 and Hayes/Tilden 1876 would both have gone the other way.
In sum, it kept the current system in place but made it more democratic and put many more states in play.
So an obvious question is, what would the 2016 election look like had such a system been in place? The answer is that Hillary Clinton would have won a close election. The specific version I studied awarded electoral votes only to the top two candidates in a state, and for purposes of awarding EVs only counted the votes given to the top two candidates, then used the 60/40 proportional rule among those two. So in Wisconsin, for example, Clinton and Trump each got 5 EV’s. Nationwide, Clinton wins 273-265. I also looked at one variant, where states with an even number of EV’s award a bonus to the state winner, no matter how slight. Under this scenario, Trump wins Wisconsin 6-4. Overall, however, the election still goes to Clinton, 275-263 (Clinton gets the bonus EV in Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire; Trump in Michigan and Wisconsin). The full calculation can be found here.